CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in the later 20th century

David Kettlewell - The dulcimer in Renaissance music

At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, I have also played on many occasions with the Swedish early music consort, Joculatores Upsalienses, the Jesters of Uppsala.

Here I have used both plucked and hammered techniques - the choice being based purely on musical criteria rather than on historical considerations.

The dulcimer has both taken a single line in a small ensemble, perhaps with lutes and fiddles, and played what the Jesters call gesamt Hackbrett, a tentatively-evolved Renaissance forerunner of continuo, influenced by the lute writing in Thomas Morley's Consort Lessons, etc.

The dulcimer has been heard in this context on LP, live at the Lucerne Festival, and on Swiss radio, as well as in many concerts in Sweden.

[This happened after the 1976 thesis was written]

A very different dynamic occurs when you use a dulcimer as an 18thC. Italian salterio in music from Baroque and Rococo eras.

I don't have the right kind of dulcimer at all, mine has two strings per course, rather thick, and a baroque salterio had 6 or 8 very light stings to each course. Probably the resonance is rather different, too.

But with the ensemble Musica Colorata, I performed an sinfonia by Sammartini from the manuscript collection of the northern Swedish grammar school in Härnösand. The dulcimer took the first violin part, with a violin on the second, and a harpsichord looked after the basso continuo. The piece sat so neatly under the fingers, it was hard to imagine that it wasn't written with the dulcimer in mind, and the whole thing was a delightful experience.

Except for the tuning.

We simply did not succeed in finding a compromise between the dulcimer's native tuning, with perfect 5th intervals and rather sharp thirds, and the harpsichord's near-perfect 3rds and rather short 5ths ...

Anyway, I wanted to play the harpsichord myself by this time ...